One of the most vexing problems that mining companies face has nothing to do with mining.
It’s what happens to the mine after the minerals have been depleted, the mine is no longer economic, and it’s time to shut the operation down. In Australia, historically when mines close rarely are the mining leases relinquished. More commonly, the lease is retained and the mining company puts the mine on care and maintenance, waiting for mineral prices to go up or other factors that could bring the operation back to life. All too often the minesite ends up falling into an “abandoned” status.In order to regulate this practice, the various State Governments have implemented requirements for current and future mines in Australia. The regulations are different for each State; in Western Australia for example, a mine closure plan is required to develop the mine and it must be updated every three years. Peter Waters, Mining Sector Lead, Asia Pacific with Stantec Australia, said up until recently, decisions about mine closure in Australia have tended to have little consideration of how the land might be used after mining. However, this is beginning to change, especially as non-governmental organizations begin to demand action on abandoned and orphaned mines.
“What we’re now seeing is that the more progressive proponents in Australia are saying we need to look at a walk-away solution. [The mining companies] understand that they won’t be mining here forever and, in fact, they don’t want to have any environmental legacy,” says Waters. “Their preference is often to ultimately relinquish the land they have and give it back to the state so that whoever wants to use it next can do so. As a result, in Australia, there is now much more of a focus on having a vision.”
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